The NFL Playoffs are here, and my picks are in

Joshua Breeden, Sports Editor

The NFL regular season closed with teams battling injuries, clinching divisions and scraping away with the final Wild Card spot. This year has given us the closest games in NFL history with an average margin of victory at 9.33. The Eagles and Chiefs earned themselves a bye for the first round. Let’s break down these Wild Card matchups.  

(2) 49ers vs. (7) Seahawks 

Starting with the NFC, the Seahawks bounced back into the playoffs thanks to the Lions beating the Packers last week. The 49ers are going into this matchup with rookie and last pick of the draft quarterback Brock Purdy. They have good weapons in receiver Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk alongside running back Christian McCaffrey, who was traded this year from the Panthers. Plus, they have one of the best defenses in the NFL with guys like Nick Bosa who led the league in sacks. The Seahawks sneaked in this year with the seventh seed and have great talent with guys like DK Metcalf, but quarterback Geno Smith was Top Ten in interceptions. I expect the pass rush of the Niners to cause a lot of pressure. Vegas spreads this game Niners minus–10, and I think it’s a safe bet. Give me 28-10 with the Niners on top. The game is in San Francisco at 4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday. 

(3) Vikings vs. (6) Giants 

This is one of the most exciting games this year, as the Vikings won the regular season matchup with the Giants beating them 27-24. Both teams are in the top five in fourth-quarter comebacks, so expect a tight game. Kirk Cousins was fourth in passing yards this year, and Justin Jefferson led the league in receiving yards which makes these two a deadly pair. Just like the rest of the year, the Giants are going into this game injury-riddled with Leonard Williams, Xavier McKinney and Azeez Ojulari all uncertain for Sunday’s game. Daniel Jones has had his best year in New York, making so many key plays this season without a No. 1 wide receiver. Expect to see him take advantage of the Vikings weak secondary. Running back Saquon Barkley will be key for the Giants as the Vikings have a below average run defense. Expect to see Barkley take control of the game. This is a tight matchup with the spread going to the Vikings at minus–3. I feel about the same with the Vikings winning 28-24. Minnesota will host the game at 4:30 p.m. ET, Sunday. 

(4) Buccaneers vs. (5) Cowboys 

Tom Brady versus Dak Prescott makes this one of the most exciting games between quarterbacks. Prescott missed eight games this season, but that didn’t derail the team as they finished 12-5. Prescott is tied with Texans quarterback Davis Mills with the most interceptions this season with 15. This inconsistency along with Prescott’s history of underperforming in the playoffs. I expect to see running back Ezekiel Elliott get a good chunk of possessions. Tom Brady returns from retirement with a clinched division and proving to everyone he is still an elite quarterback. Brady has got some great receivers in Mike Evans and Julio Jones but there’s a lack of quality in the running back department as they were dead last in rushing yards per game with 76.6. The pass rush of the Cowboys will be the deciding factor in this game as Micah Parsons will need to come up with big-time sacks to prevent Brady’s deep ball. The spread indicates Dallas with minus–2.5, but I believe the Bucs O-line can protect Brady this time. Give me the Buccaneers winning 34-30. Tampa will host Dallas on Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET. 

(2) Bills vs. (7) Dolphins  

Moving on to the AFC, this is the one game that most people are expecting a blowout. The Bills are the second favorite to win the Super Bowl behind the Chiefs. Josh Allen was sixth in passing yards and his receiver Stefon Diggs was fourth in receiving yards. The big miss with this team was the season-ending injury of outside linebacker Von Miller, so the defense isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. But the Dolphins lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to another concussion. Tagovailoa has suffered a few concussions over the course of his career, so rookie Skylar Thompson will take his place. On the flipside, the Dolphins have wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who finished third in passing yards. But with Thompson being inexperienced, you need for the O-line to give him enough time to find the right guy. If they can’t, then the D-line of Buffalo will easily 3 and out this offense. The spread is minus–9 with a Bills win, and I think that is safe to say. I’m going 35-17 with Buffalo taking it. This game is at 1 p.m. ET, Sunday in New York. 

(3) Bengals vs. (6) Ravens 

This is the hardest game to call because it is very dependent on whether quarterback Lamar Jackson is going to play. Jackson missed 16 straight practices. If he does not play, then I think the Bengals will have a much easier time with this game. They got Joe Burrow who made it to the Super Bowl last year and was fifth in passing yards this season alongside Ja’Marr Chase, who missed a lot of time with injury but still finished in the top half of receiving yards. Burrow is having the best season of his life as he was the first quarterback to have five 400-yard games in his first three seasons. The Ravens have been very dependent on tight end Mark Andrews. If the Bengals can adjust to him, then backup Ravens quarterback Anthony Brown will be shut down. Last time these two teams faced off, the Bengals won 27-16, and Jackson was playing. Vegas had the Bengals winning at minus–7, and I agree with that. My final score for this game was Cincinnati taking this one 30-21. The Bengals will host this game in Cincinnati at 8:15 p.m. ET, Sunday. 

(4) Jaguars vs. (5) Chargers 

New Jaguars coach Doug Pederson has found success in clinching the AFC South in his first season with the team. This game is the definition of a battle of quarterbacks as you have two of the NFL future stars battling it out. Jaguars Trevor Lawrence was ninth in passing yards and Chargers Justin Herbert finished second behind Patrick Mahomes. The receiver department isn’t as strong as the rest of the AFC with the Jags receiver 1 being Christian Kirk and the Chargers having Mike Williams. This game is going to boil down to which quarterback can make the smartest plays down the stretch. I believe it is going to be Herbert but regardless I think this will be a close game. The Jags have a history of not being able to close out games down the stretch. The spread of this game is the closest in the wildcard with the Chargers winning by minus–1. My final score for this game is 27-24 with the Chargers taking it. The Jaguars will host the Chargers at 8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday.